OK, forgive me the headline because truth be told, if the rumours are correct and Bradley Cooper does end up playing Barry Gibb in the upcoming movie about the Bee Gees, I’ll be more than happy. He’s got the acting chops, looks and musical sensibilities, not to mention the necessary Gibb-like hirsuteness and Gibb-like tan-ability. And beyond that, he’s got that rare kind of star-power that could help make this biopic as big as it so deserves to be.
But just in case that all falls through, I’ve found the perfect Barry. The actor in question is 27-year old Blake Jenner. Best known for his role as Ryder Lynn on the TV show Glee, I was introduced to Jenner through the sleeper 2016 hit film Everybody Wants Some. Set in 1980, Jenner played college baseball player Jake Bradford. With the retro clothes and hair, he looked a dead-ringer for a young Barry Gibb (as you can see in the above photos).
Am I right or am I right!? Blake Jenner in Everybody Wants Some looks uncannily like Barry Gibb circa 1967-1969. Give him a beard and blow dry the hair a fraction more and you’ve got Barry circa 1975-1979 too. Given we know Jenner can sing thanks to his time on Glee, the other factor in his favour is that he hails from the place Barry has made his home since the mid 70s, Miami, Florida. That’s sorted then!
Beyond who plays Barry, and not forgetting who’d play Robin, Maurice and Andy, the film is to be produced by Graham King – the same producer who took a fictionalised account of fellow Brit mega-group Queen’s career to the big screen in Bohemian Rhapsody and to the tune of more US $1-billion in box office receipts. The hopes are high he can do the Gibb brothers a similar commercial justice.
As well as King, Anthony McCarten, the screenwriter on Bohemian Rhapsody, is also said to be attached to the project, as is Steven Spielberg’s production company Amblin Entertainment.
So in a nutshell, all evidence points towards an awful lot of people who know how to make an awful lot of money being involved. This isn’t a bad thing at all. Here’s the question I’m battling with though: how would I feel if a big screen-telling of the Gibb brothers’ story played as fast and loose with the facts as Bohemian Rhapsody?
For the blissfully unaware, the Bohemian Rhapsody narrative was built upon two almighty but mightily convenient untruths: that Freddie Mercury knew he was dying prior to the band’s legend-making performance at Live Aid in 1985, and that the band was essentially broken up before reuniting against the odds to deliver that Live Aid mini-gig for ages.
The truth is much more boring: there’s no evidence whatsoever that Freddie was ill at the time of Live Aid, with most suggestions putting his decline in health between 18-months to two years later. The fact the emotional crux of the Queen biopic hinges on the fact Freddie knew he was dying prior to him giving arguably the greatest live performance in history has bothered me no end. It’s not an inconsequential part of Bohemian Rhapsody’s narrative. Rather, it’s one of its two most important pillars.
The other pillar is that the band were reuniting after years of estrangement to magically wow the world that day in 1985. How pesky that in real life they’d just six weeks earlier come off the massively successful tour for their smash hit album The Works – a tour that included one of the most attended gigs in history, the colossal Rock In Rio concert.
Struggling to remember just how big Queen were at the time of The Works? Perhaps a reminder that the album included no less than four international hits – I Want To Break Free, Radio Ga-Ga, It’s A Hard Life and Hammer To Fall – will help. But as the cliche goes, why let the facts get in the way of a good story? And a good story it was and I’m not for a second saying Rami Malek wasn’t worthy of every accolade that came his way for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury. But was it the truth? Does it matter if it wasn’t?
I mention all of this because it’s not lost on me that a small rearranging of facts could be beneficial in the upcoming Bee Gees biopic, as much as that pains me to say.
The arc of the story of the Gibbs goes something like this:
Born in England, troublemakers as kids, family moves to Australia, band is formed and they become child stars but struggle to have hits, family move back to England where they become bonafide international superstars, band breaks up acrimoniously, band reunites and becomes temporarily very big again, band struggles to stay relevant, band relocates to Florida and reinvents themselves with a new sound, band becomes the biggest on the planet, younger brother becomes almost as famous, band suffers huge backlash, band continues as crack songwriters and producers to music’s elite, band reunite and launch huge comeback, younger brother tragically dies, band carry on having hits around the world while regaining respect and winning a truckload of awards, band ends with the untimely deaths of key members.
That’s the very basic plot, but if you were concerned more with making a more purely entertaining film that still honours the Gibbs but isn’t beholden to a precise timeline, you might re-jig things a little. It makes sense to amalgamate characters, to omit others, to skim or miss certain events and to overtly dramatise others in order to better tell the story you’re aiming for.
That said, clearly I’m not in favour of blatantly making stuff up in biopics and believe me, this gives me a mild hernia even just writing it down, but bear with me. In the case of the brothers Gibb and for the sake of the movie, what if the final act saw Andy’s devastating death occurring in 1987 instead of 1988? That way you could make the Bee Gees’ triumphant 1987 comeback single You Win Again happen in 1988 as a kind of tribute to Andy as well as a reaffirmation of the very notion that I’d argue is so much at the heart of the Gibb brothers story: that they never, ever gave up.
I hate that I’m even suggesting this, but in a way I’m just mentally preparing myself for the film. This slight rejigging of the actual timeline could smooth out the injustice of the stomping pop masterpiece You Win Again somehow only peaking at US #75 despite being so big a UK #1 that it kept George Michael’s Faith off the top spot. Not only that, it’s absurd failure in the States ignored the fact it was nothing less than the biggest hit in Europe for all of 1987, so yes, let’s rewrite that history!
Or not. The life story of Barry, Robin, Maurice and Andy Gibb is one of the more remarkable in showbiz and their staggering successes don’t need any finessing to make a better yarn. Not every twist and turn in their collective tale needs to make it to the big screen, but that overriding theme that I mentioned – that of never, ever giving up; of being brothers and loving each other; of being the masters of melody as well as the comeback; that is a non-negotiable.